Eye For Film >> Movies >> Radio (2003) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney
From the minute that Cuba Gooding Jr shuffles on screen with lolling slack-jawed mouth, before free-spiritedly scooting downhill, while sitting in a shopping trolley, you know what you're in for. Like a soggy mix of Forrest Gump meets Bagger Vance, with a side order of Rain Man, it's yet another heartwarming Hollywood tale of a simple soul helping a career-driven man reconnect with the values of family, love and general niceness, while allowing another actor the chance to Oscar hunt by playing a disabled character.
That it isn't quite so grim as some of the feelgood genre is mainly due to the always reliable Ed Harris, whose fiercely intelligent gaze throughout brings dignity to some rather soppy stuff. He plays football-obsessed Harold Jones, high school sports coach, whose single-minded focus on his team is leading him to neglect his daughter and wife (Debra Winger in a wasted role, who hilariously first appears with groundbreaking feminist book The Feminine Mystique wedged super- obviously under her arm).
The young footballers play a cruel prank on the man with learning disabilities, nicknamed Radio, who ambles around the town, generally ignored by all. Once he notices (and rescues) Radio, Coach Jones begins to take an interest in this virtual mute, who seems trapped within himself. But, as Radio is allowed to become part of the team, almost like a mascot, he opens up and it becomes clear that it's the lack of opportunities and friendship that have held him back, rather than his disabilities.
This isn't an action-packed movie and, thankfully, Radio doesn't turn out to secretly be a star football player underneath. In fact, it's based on a true story and footage of the actual Radio, a well-loved assistant coach at the real South Carolina high school for some 25 years, plays over the credits.
Of course, there's got to be a villain to overcome and here it's an inexplicably mean-spirited local, who campaigns against Radio, as Coach Jones persuades the rest of the school and town to take him to their hearts. Nasty Frank (Chris Mulkey) isn't actually allowed to be as nasty as possibly the real anti-Radio faction in the town were, so he's only able to argue that the lovable mascot is a "distraction" from winning the big games. To a British audience, the town's grumbling menfolk, who meet at a barbershop after every game to thrash out the plays, seem even weirder for being so invested in high school sports matches.
The 1976 setting isn't used for much else but background, as the radios that Radio loves to listen to - and is able to put aside as he finds real communication - play disco music and headlines of the time. Elsewhere, the score is absurdly dramatic, as every unfortunate misunderstanding, football kick, basketball throw and life lesson is ladelled with insistent music, composed by James "Titanic" Horner.
While Gooding's performance is fine, it's so bound up in artifice that it's hard to really admire. Harris, on the other hand, could make any old nonsense look good. And he probably just has.Reviewed on: 14 May 2004